COP28: WOP, a system to optimise water resources in agriculture

Edoardo De Cal is one of the three very young Italian talents behind ‘Water Optimisation Protocol’, an online platform designed to monitor the state of agricultural fields using satellite data. Edoardo, also a young changemaker from Ashoka, tells us more about their start-up in this interview. 

By Federica Baldo

Giulia Sironi, Jacopo Cometti and Edoardo De Cal, these are the names of the three protagonists of a brave, innovative, and above all green, story. It all began when the three of them first wondered what the future challenges facing humanity might be due to climate change, and among many critical sectors, agriculture springs to mind. When we talk about the start-up Water Optimisation Protocol (WOP), we are referring to an online platform designed to monitor the condition of agricultural fields using satellite data, so as to advise farmers on when and how much to irrigate their fields. All this in order to maximise efficiency in the use of water resources, which today are among the most compromised by the effects of climate change. 

In the current state of things, traditional land and resource use practices are no longer effective, hence comes the need for more careful and meticulous strategies. WOP aims to support farmers in managing their practices through the use of images produced by two satellites of ESA‘s Copernicus constellation. As Edoardo De Cal explains: “From the images of farmers’ land, useful indices are then calculated to understand when and how to irrigate the soil. Despite the fact that these images are public and available to anyone, it is difficult for those who have no technical knowledge not only to access them but above all to clean the data to make it useful for their own purposes’. This is precisely where WOP’s usefulness lies, in bridging the gap between the farmer and the data by making the service available to even low-tech people. Edoardo describes how the platform was born with the idea of acting as a space station giving advice from above to terrestrial farmers on how to manage their land. 

At the moment, the platform is complete and therefore already operational in all its parts, as witnessed by the positive feedback the three have received so far from Italian farmers who are using it. The idea behind the project, however, refers to a much broader list of recipients, first and foremost farmers in developing countries, and this for two reasons: firstly, these are the countries in the world that are most severely affected by the effects of climate change and, secondly, it is here that an improvement in agricultural practices would generate a greater relative benefit in terms of development and welfare of the country.

We then asked Edoardo to comment on the ‘Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action’ signed by 134 countries during the second day of COP28, on 1st of December 2023. “The interesting aspect is the recognition of the need to adapt our current food systems to the new reality we are experiencing and to protect the agricultural sector through supportive measures. The partnership itself between the Bill&Melinda Gates Association and the UAE, with the former allocating 200 million in innovation in the agricultural sector, shows that an event like the COP can make a difference by bringing together private actors and governments in the climate mission.” In his opinion, however, this should not prevent people from taking concrete individual actions that go beyond mere words and rhetorical speeches.

Thinking more broadly about the agricultural sector, it is clear that this sector in particular is facing several challenges in today’s global context: population growth, climate change and the increasing demand to adapt to sustainability standards. All these aspects, Edoardo explains, cannot be overcome by political decision-makers or the private sector alone; the solution requires the joint action of both players and thus cooperation between them. 

On the side of policy makers, ‘policies that facilitate the private sector’s contribution in resolving these issues will be necessary, but not only that, also policies requiring companies to adapt to increasing standards of sustainability. On the other hand, the private sector will be called upon to embrace a renewed mentality, where there is no room for private profit only but also and especially for collective welfare,’ Edoardo concludes.

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